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South African Settlers - British

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Early British Settlers in South Africa


This is a project devoted to the British settlers/progenitors in South Africa. It has been set up primarily to accommodate those British Settlers who arrived before and after the 1820 Settlers. Please only add the profiles of the Progenitors who came from Britain - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, although it may be necessary to have separate projects for the Irish and Scottish in the future.

There is a project devoted the the 1820 Settlers but the profiles of those settlers are welcome on this project. There is also a project devoted to Pre-1820 Settlers.

To participate in any project

- you do need to first be a collaborator - so join the project. Sharon Doubell has set up a discussion Project Help: How to add Text to a Project - Starter Kit to get you going!

How to Participate

  • Please add the profiles of British progenitors to this project. This is easily done from the profile page using the Add to project link.
  • If you have any queries related to British settlers please start a discussion linked to this project. (See the menu top right).
  • Please add related projects to the menu on the right.
  • If you have links to related web pages that would be of interest to others please add them to the bottom of the page. In order to do this use the drop down menu at the top left of the screen and Join the Project. If this option is not available to you then contact a collaborator and ask to be added to the project. As a collaborator you will be able to edit this page.
  • Add any documents of interest using the menu at the top right of the page, and then add a link to the document in the text under the heading below. If you do not know how to do this please contact one of the other collaborators to assist you.

Visit South African Settlers to see if your ancestor is listed. an invaluable site!

This site includes Settlers from the British Isles to South Africa during the 19th century, particularly those who went in 1820, but also many who arrived before and after that year. Information has been drawn from Settler files at the Albany Museum and Cory Library in Grahamstown, South Africa; South African Death Notices (DN); Colonial Office papers (CO); and the International Genealogical Index (IGI).
The main objective of this site is to try and establish a date and place of an event before the settlers left the British Isles, thus providing a starting place for family research in local British repositories.


From "Children of the Mist" by Scott Balson:

It was in 1613 that a British East Indiaman, the Hector, anchored at Table Bay and took two unwilling hostages including the young local Chief Coree. They were taken back to London where they were shown English ways and taught the English language. The next year Coree was returned to the Cape after his companion died through the cold of the English winter. The experience left the Chief with deep misgivings about the intentions of those who visited their shores and when a small group of English convicts were left at Saldania, as the region was then known by the British, his people set upon them killing several and putting fear into the hearts of the others who fled in a long boat to Robben Island. The vicious attacks on the first white settlers stopped the British from settling the Cape of Good Hope some thirty six years before the Dutch.

The person who was supposedly the first English speaking SouthAfrican was Robert Hart who arrived at the Cape in 1795. He had enlisted with the Argyllshire Highlanders aged 17. See Notes on his life and the Hart Family of South Africa project.

However quite a few English-speaking employed by the VOC at the Cape before 1795.

At the end of the 18th century the Dutch mercantile power began to decrease allowing the British to move in. They seized the Cape in 1795 to prevent it from falling into French hands, and to protect their sea route to India. They briefly relinquished it back to the Dutch (1803), before definitively conquering it in 1806. British sovereignty of the Colony was recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

By the time the British arrived there was an established colony with 25,000 slaves, 20,000 white colonists, 15,000 Khoisan, and 1,000 freed black slaves. Power resided solely with a white élite in Cape Town, and differentiation on the basis of race was deeply entrenched. Outside Cape Town and the immediate hinterland, isolated black and white pastoralists populated the country.

Before 1820 the British at the Cape were mainly military, naval, merchants or missionaries. British missionaries were active in South Africa from the 1810s.

Retired Soldiers who settled at the Cape 1818-1826

. Posted in Military records

A list of men, retired to pension (as opposed to dead or dishonourably discharged), who elected to remain at the Cape, from 1818 to 1826, whose names are listed in WO 23/147 at The National Archives, Kew. Transcribed by Charles Fison.

Like the Dutch the British initially had little interest in the Cape as a Colony, seeing it more as a strategic port. One of their first tasks was to try to resolve the border disputes between the Boers and the Xhosa on the eastern frontier. They attacked the Xhosa from 1799 to 1803, from 1811 to 1812, and again from 1818 to 1819, when they succeeded in expelling the Africans into the area north of the Great Fish River In 1820 to help maintain the advantage the British authorities persuaded about 5,000 middle-class British immigrants (most of them "in trade") to settle on tracts of land between the Boers and Xosa, the idea being to provide a buffer zone. The plan was not successful. Within three years, almost half of the 1820 Settlers had retreated to the towns like Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth where they could pursue the work they had held in Britain.

This influx of settlers solidified the British presence in the area, breaking up the relative unity of the whites at the Cape. The Boers had before been mostly unchallenged, but with the increased numbers of English there were two distinct language groups and cultures. A pattern soon emerged whereby English-speakers became highly urbanised, dominating politics, trade, finance, mining, and manufacturing, and the largely uneducated Boers were relegated to their farms.

When slavery was abolished in 1834 the gap between the British settlers and the Boers widened as the Boers generally believing that having slaves was a God-given ordering of the races. In 1841 the authorities passed a Masters and Servants Ordinance, which perpetuated white control. Meanwhile, the number of British immigrants increased rapidly in Cape Town, in the area east of the Cape Colony (present-day Eastern Cape Province), and in Natal. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley and the subsequent discovery of gold in parts of the Transvaal led to the arrival of fortune seekers from all parts of the globe, including a migration to those areas from the Cape.

Table showing chronology of settlers (including British) from 1817-1882

Please add links that would be useful to other users.

Further Reading:

John Bond - "They Were South Africans" 1971 - book about the English Speaking South Africans

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